"Modern neotropical rainforests, with their palms and spectacular flowering-plant diversity, seem to have come into existence in the Paleocene epoch, shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago," said Carlos Jaramillo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
"Pollen evidence tells us that forests before the mass extinction were quite different from our fossil rainforest at Cerrejón. We find new plant families, large, smooth-margined leaves and a three-tiered structure of forest floor, understory shrubs and high canopy."
Historically, good rock exposures and concentrated efforts by paleontologists to understand the evolution of neotropical rainforests—one of the most awe-inspiring assemblages of plant and animal life on the planet—have been lacking. "The Cerrejón mining operation is the first clear window we have to see back in time to the Paleocene, when the neotropical rainforest was first developing," said Scott Wing, a paleontologist from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
Some of the more than 2,000 fossil leaves, including the compound leaves and pods of plants in the bean family and leaves of the hibiscus family are among the oldest, reliable evidence of these groups. This was the first time that the plant families Araceae, Arecaceae, Fabaceae, Lauraceae, Malvaceae and Menispermaceae, which are still among the most common neotropical rainforest families, all occurred together.
Many newcomers to modern rainforests remark that the leaves all look the same, a reasonable observation given that most have smooth margins and long "drip-tips" thought to prevent water from accumulating on the leaf surface.
S. Joseph Wright, senior scientist at STRI, has noted that all of the areas in the world today with average yearly temperatures greater than 28 C are too dry to support tropical rainforests. If tropical temperatures increase by 3 C by the end of this century as predicted in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "We're going to have a novel climate where it is very hot and very wet. How tropical forest species will respond to this novel climate, we don't know," said Wright.
Based on leaf shape and the size of the cold-blooded Titanoboa, Cerrejón rainforest existed at temperatures up to 30-32 C and rainfall averages exceeded 2500 mm per year.
But Titanoboa's rainforest was not as diverse as modern rainforests. Comparison of the diversity of this fossil flora to modern Amazon forest diversity and to the diversity of pollen from other Paleocene rainforests revealed that there are fewer species at Cerrejón than one would expect. Insect-feeding damage on leaves indicated that they could have been eaten by herbivores with a very general diet rather than insects specific to certain host plants.
"We were very surprised by the low plant diversity of this rainforest. Either we are looking at a new type of plant community that still hadn't had time to diversify, or this forest was still recovering from the events that caused the mass extinction 65 million years ago," said Wing. "Our next steps are to collect and analyze more sites of the same age from elsewhere in Colombia to see if the patterns at Cerrejón hold, and study additional sites that bracket the Cretaceous mass extinction, in order to really understand how the phenomenal interactions that typify modern rainforests came to be."
This work is scheduled to be published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of Oct. 12-16.
Beth King | EurekAlert!
New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
26.06.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Fighting a destructive crop disease with mathematics
21.06.2017 | University of Cambridge
Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.
For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...
What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.
To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...
The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....
A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...
Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision
Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
12.07.2017 | Event News
21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences
21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy